Islamabad, APR 25 – 150 prominent academics and civil society leaders have written a strongly worded open letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan demanding the withdrawal of the HEC amendment ordinance and restoration of the HEC as an independent national regulatory body.

The government promulgated the HEC (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 on 25 March 2021, through which the tenure of the Chairperson was reduced from 4 to 2 years, the current Chair, Dr. Tariq Banuri, was removed from his position, and HEC was placed under the Federal Ministry of Education. 

The signatories of the letter include senior educationists, Vice Chancellors, journalists, former ambassadors, generals and other government officials, parliamentarians, and human rights activists. They include such names asLUMS founder Syed Babar Ali, human rights activists Ms. Hina Jilani, Mr. Harris Khalique and Mr. Karamat Ali, Council of Islamic Ideology Chair Dr. Qibla Ayaz, former VCsProf. Qasim Jan and Prof. Adil Najam, NCSW Chair Ms. Khawar Mumtaz, journalists Mr Hussain Naqi and Mr. M. Ziauddin, educationists Mr. ShamshKassimLakha, Ms. Shahnaz Wazir Ali and Dr. Ayesha Razzaque, business leader Mr. Farooq Sumar, and former Senators Javed Jabbar and Farhat Ullah Babar,among many others.

The signatories expressed serious concerns that major decisions that affect the lives of millions of students were taken hastily and secretly by the Federal Government without consulting the parliament, the Council of Common Interests (CCI), or the Higher Education Commission. These are statutory bodies with a real stake in the issue.

The relegation of the status of the HEC from an independent national body, with representation from all provinces, to a subordinate entity of the federal government, will have implications for inter-provincial relations as well as the autonomy of higher education institutions.

The signatories questioned the logic behind reducing the term of the Chairperson to two years, stating that there is no evidence that shorter tenures will improve the quality of higher education. They also said that dismantling the statutory protection accorded to Chairperson’s tenure will render similar government’s commitments worthless, and that this will create sever problems of governance.

The letter points out that the incumbent Chairperson of HEC, Dr. Tariq Banuri is a Harvard trained Economist who was appointed on the recommendation of an independent selection board, composed solely of professionals with no participation along partisan political lines. Since his appointment he had initiated a series of reforms to bring greater transparency, accountability, and commitment to quality in the system of higher education. Removal of the Chairperson mid-way in his tenure will derail this agenda.

The letter demands that the HEC (Amendment) Ordinance must be rescinded, the Chairman be restored to his position, and the universityfunding restored to the levels required to bring the requisite improvements in the quality of education and research in the country.